Check out review site before stumping up cash

Check out review site before stumping up cash
09 August 2012

PLANNING a short break and want to read a few hotel reviews before you cough up the cash? Want to check out a local restaurant, spa or even laundrette? YaDig.com, the UAE-based review site, could be the answer.

The brainchild of 30-year-old Emirati Saif Al Zarouni (pictured, right), the site is poised to launch an Arabic platform.

Recent growth has been exponential – from 3,000 users registered to write reviews and/or signed-up to receive weekly newsletters in January of this year to 20,000 today. The site is attracting 350,000 visits per month.

Bosses believe the website is quickly changing the way people go out and interact with businesses in the region. cashy caught up with founder and chief executive Al Zarouni. Here’s what he had to say...

What’s YaDig.com all about?

YaDig is all about finding new places in your city and basing your decision on whether or not to go there on other people’s experiences. YaDig is simple: search the places you want to go and, based on the reviews on that business, you make your decision on whether or not to go there. After you have gone there, you write a review about your experience and your community loves you that much more for doing it. It’s not just restaurants, hotels, spas and gyms but also auto service companies, Laundromats, movers and more.

How did you get the idea?

I was really tired of going to the same places over and over. There had to be a site that gave honest real-time reviews from the people in my community; there wasn’t. So YaDig.com just kind of bubbled up from there.

When did you set the company up?

We launched in November 2010.We sat in beta for about a year then really came out in beginning of 2012.

How did you finance it?

A lot of my own money and, recently, some investors.

What’s your background?

I was born in UAE and did most of my schooling in the US. I’ve lived permanently in Dubai for the last eight years and am loving it.

Is there entrepreneurial blood in your family?

Yeah, I think I got that bug from my father – an Emirati who has been starting his own businesses for years.

What did you do before you founded YaDig?

I was in the construction sector for about eight years, also with my own company.

Has the global economic downturn affected you?

It was always impossible to get bank financing for a dotcom start-up so that didn’t get affect us at all.

The downturn has helped raise the profile of online advertising a lot so we are seeing the benefits of that. From the businesses owner’s aspect it is a lot cheaper to advertise online than it is offline. That’s great for us since we make our money from advertising.

YaDig.com allows the business owner targeted marketing to their exact demographic – people looking for their business. For instance, hotels can advertise directly to users searching for hotels in that city, so they can really see a return on their investment – it’s a win-win for both sides.

How does YaDig benefit the consumer?

YaDig lets the consumer know if it’s worth spending their hard-earned money at different businesses before they actually go and do that. Nothing makes me more mad than going to a place I heard was good and spending a bunch of money only to be let down. The consumer can get a pretty good feel for a business if they read a couple reviews beforehand.

Also, we give the consumer a lot more options than they are probably used to. They can try new and different places in their city. I used to eat, go out and do the same old things in my 10km bubble. YaDig.com lets people find new and exciting place in their city and gives them a voice and platform to engage directly with their local businesses. If they are wronged, they can right it. Vice versa, they can vouch for businesses with positive experiences.

How has your business grown so far?

In the last few months it has really exploded.

What are your hopes for your business?

We are already the largest review-based site in the Middle East. We're going to be the first major reviewing portal in Arabic soon. We hope that, with that, we change the way people choose where they go out and communicate with businesses.

What’s been your biggest mistake?

Not having the right product when we launched. We had the right idea, it just took us some time to get it right.

... and your biggest achievement?

The number of users coming to the site daily and writing reviews.

What are your three top financial tips for consumers today?

Number one, check reviews before you go out, so you don’t waste your money. Number two, just because your friends say it is a good place doesn’t mean it is – the more opinions the better. And, number three, tell your friends how YaDig.com helped you find the right place and saved you time and money!

Do you use review sites? Comment below...

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Author
Freelance editor and journalist
mediahill Ltd
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